Jewish-made rugs have existed for centuries but were never recognized in the industry as having an identity of their own like carpets made in the Middle East or Africa. Conflict and persecution have forced many Jews to seek refuge in various parts of the world, limiting opportunities for many of their artisans. It wasn’t until the start of the 20th century in Palestine did they get the chance to make and showcase some of the finest rugs ever produced.
In 1906, the Bezalel Academy was founded in British-controlled Palestine by Boriz Schatz who was from Bulgaria and Theodore Herzl, the father of the Zionist movement. The school’s main objective was to establish a special learning institution that would promote Jewish art in different forms including rugs. ‘Bezalel’ was the name of the man mentioned in the Bible who was tasked to make the Ark of the Covenant.
The rugs created in the Bezalel Academy were so extraordinary and artistic it became the ‘brand’ of carpets made by Jewish artists. Their distinct designs centered mainly on the Holy Land and religion like the famous ‘Rachel’s Tomb’ Bezalel rug. Students were also taught technical skills that made their work more precise and highly detailed. For many experts, Jewish rugs are valuable because they represent a seamless fusion of Middle Eastern and European styles that’s hard to find in other carpets. The school operated until 1929 ending a short run of truly majestic rugs. Today, Bezalel or Palestine-made Jewish rugs are considered rare finds and cost more than the newer reproductions.